Monday, September 28, 2009

Consensus Lacking on Playground Supervision Ratios

It’s clear that adult supervision is the best way to prevent mishaps on playgrounds, whether they be school yards, back yards, parks or wherever groups of children gather to play. But an important aspect of this, narrowing down a viable ratio of adult supervisors to children, remains elusive.

The answer, of course, varies depending on the dimensions and specific characteristics of a playground, the age range and number of children present, as well as legal and administrative factors.

So the key question remains, how many adult supervisors should be present? And while there’s far from a consensus or clearly defined mandate, playground supervision is definitely an active, ongoing topic of discussion in the realms of tort lawyers, government agencies, educators and the broader playground safety community.

Columbia, South Carolina law firm Duff, White & Turner provides a detailed recommendation: “In the area of supervision, school districts should establish an appropriate adult to student ratio on the playground, preferably equivalent to the ratio present in classrooms, since students are even more active, and thus more likely to be injured, while on the playground as they are in a classroom environment. The adults assigned to playground supervision duty need not be teachers, so long as they have received appropriate training on effective supervision. This training should include proper staff coverage of the playground, proper use of equipment and how to handle a fall or other accident which might occur on the playground.”

Fairly straightforward, granted, but a bit on the vague side with regard to hard-number supervision ratios.

Eileen Hull, an executive in charge of childcare insurance programs at Market Insurance Company, is also on the vague side in an article for the teacher’s resource website Early Childhood News: “Whether or not your state mandates supervision on the playground, make sure your program keeps the same child-to-staff ratios outdoors as indoors. And remember, these are minimum standards only. Because of distractions, more staff members may be required to supervise the children.”

Hull did hone in a little deeper, as she continued, “Can one staff person adequately supervise more than two children on the playground? Usually not. It can be difficult to keep even a small group of children together on the playground, and a single supervisor can easily be drawn to one child and lose sight of the rest.”

The general rule of thumb, though still on the vague side, seems to be at least to keep the outdoor playground ratio consistent with indoor supervision. That would appear to be one supervisor per 25 to 30 kids. And with all the intangibles associated with kids at play versus being cooped up in a classroom, 1 to 30 seems too high.

The University of Northern Iowa houses the National Program for Playground Safety. According to its directors in an article on the PTA website, “NPPS recommends that the playground supervision ratio be equal to the indoor classroom ratio. However, a recent study in Iowa found that many supervisor-child ratios were extremely high compared to the recommendations. The largest ratio found the study was one supervisor to 125 children, and the most frequent ratio was one supervisor to 50 students. Two percent of the schools surveyed have parents volunteering to be supervisors.”

Regardless of where children gather, more adults present means a lesser chance of playground injury statistics continuing to rise. Maybe that last point about “two percent of schools” with parents who volunteer to be playground supervisors is worth exploring toward improving that all-important supervision ratio…

Monday, September 7, 2009

Top 5 Safety Tips for Safe Fun to Teach your Child

We all know that time of year when summer is winding down and we are all getting ready to send our little ones back to school. Kids will be playing with other kids on school and community playgrounds not always with your supervision. So it’s vital to make our kids aware of some hidden dangers on the playground.

Educating our children on some basics that can be easily taught and implemented and goes a long way in protecting them.

According to the Consumer Product Safety Commission, over 200,000 children are treated in hospital emergency rooms across the United States. About 60% percent are from falls from playground equipment.

Approximately 156,040 (75.8 percent) of the injuries occurred on equipment designed for public use, 46,930 (22.8 percent) occurred on equipment designed for home use, and 2,880 (1.4 percent) occurred on homemade equipment (primarily rope swings).
It is important to take some simple precautions to increase the overall safety of a child and further the safe play environment experience.

1) Is Equipment Safe to Use? Teach your child to make sure the equipment is safe to use. This can be easily done by pointing out and demonstrating if equipment is broken, loose, or missing parts. Inform your child not to use such equipment and to let you know.

2) Adequate Surfacing? Look at the safety surfacing and make sure there is adequate coverage. Inform your child to only play on equipment that has adequate safety surfacing under the equipment. There should be Poured-In-Place, Tiles, Mats, Pea Gravel, Wood mulch, Rubber Mulch (Shredded Tires). Surfacing that has not been maintained properly should be avoided. Example: Most of the loose material needs to be at a minimum 6” depth. If a large percentage is displaced or missing then your child should know it’s “Choose Another Activity Time”. Poured-In-Place, Tiles, Mats should not be delaminated or missing in places.

3) Weather and Heat: This is important on so many fronts. Educate! Inclement weather or possible thunder storms in the area is, “Indoor Play Time” for your child. In addition, look at those hot days. Show your child how to test the equipment to see if it is too hot to go down that slide or climb on those railings. Do this by quickly tapping the surface of the equipment with your hand. I call it the “tap”, then “tap”, “tap”, “tap”, to see if it is too hot. In other words, quickly “tap” the surface once. If the surface of the equipment passes that test and feels ok, then do the “tap”, “tap”, “tap” method increasing the length of time with each tap. If the equipment passes this test then it is most likely able to be played on.

4) Moving Objects: This is really important. Kids swinging from railings, swings, slide exit points and moving apparatuses need to be observed by children prior to entering the playground. Sometimes with the excitement of play, kids fail to take notice of this. Take the time when you approach a playground to point out what activities are going to avoid getting injured.

5) Adult Supervision: Adults need to be present on a playground. Whether at school or in the park it is essential to have adults participating in supervising play. Tell your children before beginning play, to look for adults on the playground and only play on playground equipment when adults are present.